By Mark L. Taylor
Daily Call (1/13/12)
So when I was just a little shaver – about seven years old – I had a pal who lived on the other side of the block from our house in the hoity-toity enclave of Madison’s Maple Bluff. I don’t recall his name; I’ll call him Steve. He was a nice kid and we teamed up with other pipsqueaks in the neighborhood one summer to build forts in the last scrap of remaining hardwoods nearby.
This was in late-1950’s suburban America in one of the nicest suburbs in the Midwest. It was a time of Weber grills and Chevys and Caddies with tail fins and hula-hoops and Elvis and Milwaukee Braves games broadcast over fist sized transistor radios.
But there was something else at Steve’s house; his dad.
Steve’s dad was a short, powerfully built guy with a buzz cut, big ruddy cheeks and a perpetual squint that hooded his eyes. He was a stoic guy always armed with a monogrammed shot glass of Scotch in hand. Steve’s dad was the kind of guy you felt both drawn to and frightened of; like there was something dangerous pulling you in and you hoped to God whatever it was wouldn’t go off while you were within range.
Even when surrounded by neighbors on some sun dappled patio for late afternoon cocktails Steve’s dad seemed just a tad apart from the rest.
As with many fathers in the neighborhood, Steve’s dad was a veteran. He saw combat with the Marines in some of the nastiest hell holes in the Pacific campaign. I’m not sure, but I seem to recall he was at Iwo Jima. All I knew then about that was the famous photo of the flag raising.
A brutal souvenir
Somewhere in the house, Steve said his dad had a box and in that box were all kinds of war mementos. There were old unit shoulder patches and a set of dog tags and black-and-white snapshots of fighter airplanes and bomb shredded palm trees. There were some rifle bullets and even a pin from a real grenade. But the thing that most caught my attention was Steve’s report that there was a dog tag chain with a collection of shriveled up ears from Japanese soldiers.
I couldn’t believe it and demanded to see this gruesome souvenir, but Steve refused, saying his dad would be angry.
But the image of this collection stuck in my boyish mind until one day I asked Steve’s dad if it was true. I remember hearing the swirled rattle of ice cubes in the whiskey glass and for a moment it felt like I had just made the biggest mistake of my barely begun visit to the planet, when he sighed and said it was true.
I asked why and why the ears didn’t rot. He explained with the same calm, matter-of-fact tone that an insurance underwriter might use that in his unit when a man killed a “Jap” he cut off both ears, which were preserved in salt, dried in the sun and then strung on a chain and worn around the neck as a trophy. He simply brought his trophy home and, no, I couldn’t see it.
Outside a lawn mower moaned.
What the hell do we expect?
I don’t know what finally happened to Steve or his Dad. We moved out of Maple Bluff when I was 8, but I always remembered that conversation. Until I visited the Pearl Harbor memorial many years later as an adult, it was the closest I had come to the vicious reality of WW II.
I think of Steve’s dad now as the craven politicians who send our young off to do brutal, ghastly violence under a banner of lies and propaganda have the gall to speak of Marines urinating on the bodies of the dead as “unacceptable” and “contrary to our values”.
Bullshit, it’s completely consistent with our values.
In the past decade we have proven ourselves to be a nation that goes to war under false pretenses and justifies torture in the name of liberty. We now think it somehow noble to rain death down on innocent civilians from drones controlled by guys sitting in air conditioned trailers half a world away in the Nevada Desert. Almost 5,000 or our own died in Iraq and, conservative estimates report 100,000 Iraqis died and millions are displaced.
And all that stuff about fighting for Iraqi freedom?
Please. Is there anyone with more than a low double-digit IQ that believes that tripe? We all know it was about the oil and GW’s twisted “daddy issues”.
The corporate war mongers of both parties are the guilty ones here. When you take young men and throw them into savagery and thuggery to benefit oil companies and defense contractors what else do you expect? When you train them to kill and pound any sense of the “other” being a human being out of their consciousness, where do you expect it to go?
Most will behave with courage and decency in an indecent cauldron ignited by cowardly leaders.
Not all soldiers will pee on a dead body, or cut fingers off the dead like last year’s “Kill Team” soldiers in Afghanistan. Not all will gun down a family to rape a young girl as we saw in Baghdad and not every soldier will drag a prisoner around by a leash. But some will.
Some have, and do.
And forget all that official party line crap about “a few bad apples”; the whole damn orchard is a festering patch of deeply rooted, poisoned thorns. When we breathe life into evil evil happens and at some point in time, this nation needs to get that.
Our leaders are hopeless and without soul. They are or have become evil. People like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Pearl and Rice and Albright and Obama and both Clintons and Petraus are the real perpetrators of war crimes. How dare they utter words like “honor” and “values” and “human rights” and “freedom” and “democracy”; their actions have robbed them of the right to use such human language.
The only thing more ghastly than the shriveled trophy in that long ago box of wartime mementos are the leaders who send the young off to such inhumanity and horror. And as long as we permit them to remain in power we bear our own bloody trophy of inhumanity around our own necks.
The whole damn thing pisses me off.
- Video posted anonymously on YouTube claims to show American troops in Afghanistan urinating on dead bodies http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/12/american-marines-accused-war-crimes?newsfeed=true
- 1+-Minute Video - “The Parable of the Old Man and The Young” by Wilfred Owen (poetry reading): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DS4FqkT6Uvo
(Editor’s Note: Most of the issues erupting around us have not just sprung out of the ground overnight. Instead, there is historical context and an often interconnecting cast of characters. Quick Hits is designed to provide more in-depth understanding about what is going on. While the videos and article links may be longer that most offerings, they still provide a valuable way to get up to speed on important issues in – usually – an hour or less. - Mark L. Taylor)